President Donald Trump’s tough stance on North Korea has put a lasting peace with North Korea within reach.
For years, the North Korean regime defied the United States and the sanctions imposed on it.
After coming to office in January last year, Trump launched an unprecedented pressure campaign on the North Korean regime, which has resulted in the upcoming summit between Trump and Kim Jong Un in Singapore on June 12.
North Korean state media, which is known for its excessive anti-American rhetoric, has now gone as far as talking about the need of reunification between North and South Korea as a lasting solution to peace.
The two countries have also been discussing a potential formal end to their war.
This was considered inconceivable just a few months ago.
Just last November, the North successfully launched an intercontinental ballistic missile into outer space, and its efforts to create a miniaturized nuclear warhead were well advanced. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said at the time that North Korea’s missiles could reach anywhere in the world.
However, now North Korea seems willing to abandon the nuclear weapons program, which it has seen for decades as key to its survival.
So what changed?
Trump has used a combination of diplomatic means, strong economic sanctions, and a credible military threat.
The extent of the Trump administration’s efforts to pressure Kim became apparent in late April, when it was revealed that CIA Director Mike Pompeo, now secretary of state, had met with Kim in secret in North Korea.
It is unclear whether Trump himself has talked to Kim already. When asked by a reporter last week, Trump answered: “I don’t want to say that.”
One of the key philosophies of Trump as a businessman has been to have leverage in negotiations.
By deploying additional military assets to the region, as well as increasing military spending, Trump has created a major military threat—leverage—on the North.
The United States also broke with the Obama administration’s policy of strategic patience and actively imposed new sanctions on the North to force it to the negotiating table.
This leverage has proven effective in Trump’s dealing with North Korea. After meeting with North Korean Vice Chairman Kim Yong Chol at the White House on June 1, Trump said the United States has hundreds of more sanctions ready to go.
“We had hundreds of new sanctions ready to go … but I said I’m not going to put them on until such time as the talks break down,” Trump said.
But perhaps more significant has been the support from China that Trump was able to secure.
For decades, the Chinese regime has been a key lifeline for the North Korean regime, providing it with the economic support it needed to survive.
Calls from previous U.S. presidents on China to change their ways went unanswered.
Trump, however, was able to secure the support from Chinese regime leader Xi Jinping in taking action on the North.
This first became apparent in September last year when China’s Central Bank instructed Chinese banks to stop providing financial services to North Korea. China also implemented the U.N. Security Council resolution on North Korea, which limited trade and oil exports to China.
Relations between Kim and Xi, however, were significantly different from those fostered by former Chinese Communist Party leader Jiang Zemin.
For years, close ties with North Korea were cultivated by Jiang’s officials. Even though Jiang officially stepped down in 2003, he continued to control key events in China.
Key events in North Korea, such as missile launches, have often coincided with major developments in China, leading China experts to believe the North has been used by China at times to deflect attention from its own situation.
Xi’s changing stance on North Korea is also an indication of Xi’s strengthening control over China’s Communist Party.
It remains to be seen, of course, what the outcome of the summit on June 12 will be. However, Trump’s style of negotiating, in which he is always sure to have leverage and certain securities in place, most likely means that negotiations between North Korea and the United States are already in an advanced stage.